Last week I told you to do the minimum for language love; don’t try so hard.
Today, I want to give you some resources for how to start. Basic. Nothing complicated.
First, though, you have to do your research. You have to go on your ecolinguistic exploratory expedition to find out what people are speaking around you. What do you hear spoken? What do you see on signs, not the formal ones, but the hand-written signs taped to light posts and pinned to bulletin boards?
Now you have your language(s). Let’s begin.
The first step is to learn a few phrases. Before you google “phrases in X,” I would recommend writing down the phrases you want to learn. That extra step will help you stayed focused on what you actually need.
For example, maybe you already have some friends who are speakers of your language. “What’s your name?” will not be terribly helpful right away.
When I first started learning Somali, I spoke it with my friends at work. I learned “Good morning” on the first day, and “See you on Monday!” in the first week. But it took months before I learned “Good evening,” because we only greeted each other at the beginning of work.
With your list in hand, see if you can find speakers of those languages. In the 90s I noticed that lots of Ethiopians were working at the airport in my town. During a layover at another airport, I saw more Ethiopians, so I found a couple who looked like they were on a break, and I approached them. I told them I was interested in learning some of their language (Amharic), and noted on a 3”x5” card how to say “How are you?” and “Are you Ethiopian?” Whenever I went to the airport for the next few years, I kept my Amharic “cheat sheet” with me. I’ve never had a boring layover since.
Talking to neighbors is the best method of learning. If, however, you want to practice on your own, or lack opportunities for conversations with speakers of your language, here are some resources where you can begin to gather those phrases.
- YouTube. Lots of people have recorded basic phrases of their native language so that you can learn them. If you’re in England, you should check out some Polish, or in Berlin, Kurdish. So many languages that you have never heard of are spoken by an enthusiastic YouTuber. Find yours and learn some basic phrases.
- Omniglot. This site is a clearing-house of basic phrases, run by Simon Ager, a sophisticated polyglot and a wonderful guy. The site offers basic useful and “other” phrases for most languages you’ve heard of, and then some.
- Wikipedia. Wikipedia offers information on lots of languages you may or may not have heard of. The articles don’t always offer basic phrases, but many include information about the language, such as where it is spoken and by how many people. Some also include a phonological and/or grammatical sketch of the language to get you started. Here’s a very basic article on Anyuak, for example.
- Your favorite app store. Many creative speakers of more obscure languages have put together apps to teach their language. So if you’re on Android, you can learn Hokkien and Cantonese in this single app. If you’re on iOS, you can learn Tagalog in this app.
- Memrise. This is a gamified, spaced-repetition app that will teach you some vocabulary and basic phrases. The virtual cards are composed and assembled by community members. It has a handy app and a great web interface. There are 17 decks for Twi, for example, and three for Haitian Creole.
- Anki cards. Like Memrise, these are spaced repetition flash cards. Unlike Memrise they are extremely customizable, so you can use them for any language, even ones with unique writing systems. Here’s a deck of the alphabets of the local languages of India, for example. Another deck includes American Sign Language, with videos!
After reading this post, you have two assignments if you want to become a true language lover. Remember, perfection is not the goal.
- Listen around. Decide on a language or languages. You don’t have to choose only one.
- Write down the phrases you want to be able to say. The list doesn’t have to be of any particular length; too long and too short do not exist.
- Use the phrases as often as you can. Memorizing them is not necessary. Carry around the list and read off of it if you want.